Sheriff’s office offers Virtual Neighbor Watch initiative using private security footage, causes mixed student opinion

The office of the Livingston County Sheriff has proceeded with a plan that would enable residents to provide their private security footage in the event that police could use it. The decision has prompted varied responses from some students, who believe that the policy could be valuable or that it could be ineffective. (Tom Page/Creative Commons )

The Livingston County Sherriff’s Office has begun a program that will allow it to access residents’ private security camera footage with their permission. This program is geared toward decreasing crime and has elicited differing feedback from some students. 

The initiative, which is called the Virtual Neighborhood Watch, asks businesses and private residents to volunteer access to their remote security cameras, according to Livingston County Sheriff Thomas Dougherty. The program would not allow police to access the security cameras at any time, Dougherty said. The department would still have to ask the owner of the camera for permission and would watch the footage with its owner.

“The idea of the Sheriff’s Virtual Neighborhood watch isn’t to be ‘Big Brother’ and it isn’t to have access to people’s cameras, but instead to have a logged database of where these cameras exist throughout the county, and then call upon them when we’re in need,” Dougherty said. “If [a person were to] opt into the program and allow us to log your name and address and that they have a camera there, they can certainly opt out at any time. The information is all confidential to us.”

Dougherty similarly emphasized that the program does not intend to allow the police to invade people’s privacy. The ultimate goal is not to spy on people, but to be able to speed up the response time to reports of crime and missing people, according to Dougherty.

Some students, like economics major freshman Eli Avellino, do not consider the program to be an invasion of privacy and assumed programs like this were already in place. 

“People have these cameras on their private property,” Avellino said. “If they consent to the police using them, I don’t see it as an invasion of anybody’s privacy.”

Crime in the Village of Geneseo has generally stayed the same, according to the annual report from the Geneseo Police Department. While the Sheriff’s Office seems confident that the program will help reduce crime in the country, some students seem skeptical about the degree of the initiative’s impact.

“Realistically, I don’t know how much of a difference it will make,” Avellino said. “I don’t know how frequent these cameras are placed on people’s private properties or how well they are set up to help catch criminals, but I’m sure there will be some kind of marginal decrease in crime.”

Economics and international relations double major junior Alexandra Basile said that while she didn’t think this would necessarily decrease crime, she thought it could be useful.  

“It would give them a leg up in the investigation process, so overall it would be helpful,” Basile said. 

Both Basile and Avellino agreed that, overall, the surveillance system could be improved by adding more cameras in strategic areas because the system only functions properly when most areas receive coverage.